What stupid looks like


Dear Duncan,

If you read this someday you may find the title of this post with its accompanying photograph a tad harsh. Please remember that I am making the tired but important distinction between you and your behavior.  You are not stupid; unfortunately your behavior was.

Oh my fair one–you of the white and freckle-prone skin, you of the multiple grandparents who have battled skin cancer, you of the lifetime slathered in sunscreen, oh what were you thinking?

Your Mama didn’t tell you to wear a shirt in order to harass you; your Mama told you to wear a shirt because she loves you.  You chose the path of disobedience.  You reaped the whirlwind of scarlet skin, blisters, and the oozing, raw aftermath.  Your Mama would have undone the price of your misbehavior for you if she could–but she couldn’t. However, your suffering did give Mama hope.  Hope that you would know better in the future, not just about your skin but about the law of act and consequence.

So, today when Mama  saw you outside with your still healing blisters exposed to the sun, scrambling to re-don the shirt only when you saw her, Mama felt sad for her boy. It looks like there are blisters ahead–and not just for the skin. Not connecting the act with the consequence–that’s what stupid looks like.



It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween

Halloween treat: Lizard FabricsIt’s that time of year when expectations (the children’s) are high and I have to keep reminding myself: I don’t sew.  Then I gravely, carefully, explain to my babies that alas, I don’t sew, and that this has important (and likely negative) implications for their costumes.  Still, fanciful notions of many-headed hydras dance in their heads.  For some reason, these sweet babies believe that if you can imagine it, you can build it.  At one point, Duncan (age 6) was going to be a bat and due to my lack of catching the vision, he was going to make the costume all by himself.  All he wanted from me was some scissors, some fabric, and a grant of complete autonomy.  

That crisis averted, I now find that Amelia is in her last year of trick or treating and hoping for a costume whose awesomeness is equal to the weighty importance of that graduation.  Even holiday scrooge Moms (that would be me) can get sucked in by things like this.  I won’t list here the various holiday things I don’t do and how my children pine for them (or miss out on them with no idea of what they’re missing, as the case may be), but trust me, costumes are the Achilles’ heel of my cold Scrooge heart.  At breakfast the other day I found myself listing the various things Amelia has been for Halloween over the years: a clown, a raccoon, a flower garden, an elephant, Cinderella, a voting booth, a cave girl, Alice in Wonderland, and now ???  They are all sweet memories–possibly with the exception of the storebought Cinderella dress.  That wasn’t special.  [This is, of course, not a judgment on the Cinderella dress you bought for your daughter--just as you don't judge me for my lack of wreaths, Santas and Easter Bunnies, right?  We all need to find special traditions for our own families but we don't all need to find the same traditions special].  

I love looking at the pictures of our past Halloweens and reflecting on why we settled on the costumes we did and how we pulled them off.  I even enjoy some knowledge gained from experience.  Namely: 1. Costumes that feature sweats (e.g., flower garden or elephant) are warm and comfy.  2. Costumes built around boxes (e.g., voting booth) are uncomfortable and difficult to trick or treat in.  Now that it is past, I consider the travail that brought each costume forth fondly.  That is why I embrace the costume challenge despite my lack of skill.  Experience suggests it might all work out in the end anyway, and if prior results are a predictor of future returns, it might even be a lot of fun. 

So: it is beginning to look a lot like Halloween at my house.  The madly optimistic purchasing of supplies is almost at an end (surely Stitch Witchery will compensate for my lack of skills, and if I buy three different types of glues one of them will surely successfully bond styrofoam cones to fabric–right?) [ Lis saves money making homemade costumes. I spend it.]  The anxious, yet thrilling!, spray painting, cutting, gluing, and assembly is just beginning.  Don’t worry.  If our ambitions fail, I have an awesome spider costume back-up plan.  A request: if you happen to see Amelia this week, could you spare a few words in praise of spiders?

Halloween sewing cheats

Balky 3 yr old advice, anyone?


Sweet Kate as Monster

How do you decide when to push your child to learn an essential life skill and when to stand back and let him find his own timing?  Although I have my generally wonderful 3 1/2 yr old in mind, this question arises for all sorts of ages and stages.  Is it appropriate to insist that a driving-phobic 16 year old practice driving?  Should a 6 yr old practice reading whether he is opposed to it or not?  Should a 5 year old be forced to wear tie shoes and practice tying them when she specifically states a preference for  velcro?  Should a 2 1/2 yr old be made to toilet train?  (Is it possible?!)  Does it vary from child to child or situation to situation?  What does it depend on?  Have you insisted that a child learn something and had it backfire on you?  What about the reverse: do you have any regrets that you weren’t the insistent parental authority your child needed? 

There are two things Kate doesn’t want to practice right now.  She won’t practice saying the “ST” sound (as in stop, stairs, star, etc) at speech and she refuses to try to write the first letter of her name at preschool.  Is it silly to worry about this?  Is it better to let it go?  What does it depend on?

What I Saw at Costco this Evening

I would desperately like to include a photograph.  However, even though I have been snap-happy recently, and even though the woman was extremely nonchalant, I thought she might not feel as nonchalant if I started strobing her with the flash. 

Background: Most would consider me a pretty hardcore breastfeeding advocate.  [Of course, it isn't my business to tell other people what to do, and I think it is best not to question why another woman chooses not to breastfeed.  Breastfeeding can be difficult and it is more difficult for some than for others.  Also, there may be factors at play that one can't know about.]  I nursed all three of my children until they were between 18 months and two years of age.  None of them ever had any formula, and none of them had any solid food before they were six months old.  Also, because I never got the knack of pumping, I was never without them for the first six months of their lives.  Does this qualify me as hardcore? 

What I saw: As I approached the checkout line at Costco, I found myself behind a woman pushing a full cart of groceries with one arm, nursing a newborn under a blanket cradled in her other arm, and with her head kinked at an angle, talking on her cellphone at the same time!  It was time for her to put her groceries on the belt, and the clerk was tentatively smiling  with perhaps a slight sense of “what should I do now?”

I deliberated for a second about whether I should start moving her groceries to the belt before getting her permission (she was not paying attention to the grocery situation enough for me to gesture).  Her purse was right there and well– I’m just wimpy–fear of people being angry with me and all.  Then she got off the phone.  So I asked if I could help, and she said yes, expressing her gratitude.  It wasn’t hard to help of course and it actually sped things up for me, since I was behind her in line.  As I left, I saw her still cradling the baby in one arm under the blanket, and with the other, pushing the heavy cart slowly out of the store.     

What is good about this: It is great that any woman in our culture could possibly be so nonchalant about this natural and important practice.  I always wanted to feel free to breastfeed anywhere, and felt I should feel free to breastfeed anywhere, but even though people were nice to me, I never made it all the way to comfort with breastfeeding whenever and wherever I went.  Although I did breastfeed in public many times, I also spent a lot of time nursing in more private spots because it was more comfortable although less convenient.  Breastfeeding is good for babies.  Anything our culture can do to help women feel more comfortable about breastfeeding, anything that makes it more convenient, is good for babies.  So yea for nonchalance! 

What is bad about this: Where was this woman’s support network?  Husband?  Friends?  Coworkers?  Religious community?  Kind neighbor?  The woman mentioned that she couldn’t leave the baby behind and therefore couldn’t get a sitter.  But could someone else not have done the shopping or gone with her?  Call me, I’ll go. 

Some unsolicited advice:

1. If you are breastfeeding as you approach the checkout, this is not a good time to make or receive telephone calls.  If the call is that important, it is not a good time to be approaching the checkout. 

2. You might find that you finish your errand more quickly if you find some place to sit down (not many at Costco I know–but how about a comfy couch or office chair, if all else fails?  It isn’t more public than the check out line) and finish nursing before resuming your shopping and/or checking out.   

3.  If it is possible for you to hire a sitter, but you can’t/won’t because you can’t/won’t leave your baby alone, consider hiring the “sitter” to be a grocery cart “pusher” instead.  An 11 year old could do that if necessary.  I have one.  I’ll rent her out cheap! 

4. Ask for help.  If you don’t have any support network to speak of, ask strangers for help.  You need it and the planet is depending on you!  In general, people are happy to be helpful to people with newborns.   

Lastly: Hugs to all the new moms who don’t have strong support networks and are going through all that new and crazy, wonderful and scary, tough stuff for the first time and don’t know what they’re doing yet.  A lot of us have been there, and we’re pulling for you.

Could I be that bad?

I am not famous for my driving prowess. I compensate by being quite cautious, knowing my limits, and sticking mainly to driving places that I have been many, many times before. It seems to have worked pretty well so far. In my ten years of driving, I have never had a traffic ticket or been in an accident where I was at fault. I do not speed. But look what my daughter is turning in for homework! She wrote this for a school assignment in which she was supposed to reflect on what it had been like to pretend to be a 1950’s child for a week (no television, no wearing of pants, yes to eating dinner with the family every night, yes to daily outdoor chores, etc.) One of the Time Swap requirements was not to drive anywhere over forty miles an hour. She reported the following:

Even though we usually go at least a little faster than forty miles per hour, I actually got places faster. When we are going faster than forty miles per hour, there is less time to think through where we are going to go, and how to get there, so it is much more probable that we will miss a turn someplace, and it will take longer to get home. When we are going fast, the driver of the car has to concentrate, and so we cannot talk as much, because if we do, than whoever is driving the car, cannot concentrate and makes a wrong turn. But because this week we had to go slower, there were less wrong turns, so we got places faster. Then, because there was much less prospect of making a wrong turn, we talked together much more in the car this week, and had fun, because we made jokes, laughed, talked, got to know each other more, and had meaningful conversations together.

Do you ever wish you could include a rebuttal with your child’s homework?

Trick or Treat

Chocolate invention

Amelia’s school assignment: “Invent” something using chocolate.
Her mother’s intervention: How about chocolate-covered brown rice balls? (What was I thinking? Umm, Nestle Crunch, but healthy?)

Amelia: Thirty minutes before school, Amelia is fighting tears. Up far past her bedtime the night before, rolling balls of sticky rice and sushi rice in chocolate [no brown sticky rice was for sale at the Asian market, rats!] she now tries one. And they are peculiar. Peculiarly awful. There is no time to concoct a new chocolate invention. If she doesn’t take the balls to school she will get a bad grade [in Amelia's mind = death]. If she does take the balls to school, she will have to “sell” them to her peers [in Amelia's mind = death by humiliation].

Mother’s intervention: “Amelia–you’re just like Thomas Edison! You don’t think the first filament he tried for his light bulb worked, do you? Invention is about trial and error. Just take the balls to school to show that you did it and tell everyone you’ve experienced the “error” part of invention.”

Amelia: Rolling of eyes, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. [I exaggerate, but you've got the idea]. Amelia prepares to toss the hated chocolate balls.

Duncan–to the rescue: Duncan breaks into tears. This is teacher appreciation week. He would like to give his wonderful teacher chocolates. Voila! There is a tray full of beautiful chocolates in the kitchen! But his sister is horrified at the thought of him giving the chocolates to his teacher. Worse, she keeps threatening to throw them away! He tries a rice ball and insists that it is delicious. If she is going to just throw them away, he wants the balls for his teacher!

Amelia: Ten minutes before school, Amelia continues to protect little bro by prohibiting him any access to the chocolate balls. She packs them for school instead–still quite upset. “What am I going to do? What if someone tries to buy one?”

Duncan: One minute before school, Duncan runs crying to the school bus, stung by life’s injustice.

Six hours later (testimony that prayer works–pray over your flocks, pray over your chicks): Amelia nonchalantly climbs into the car for the ride home. “A couple people bought them. It was no big deal. I marketed them as ‘trick chocolates.'”

Chocolate invention bagged for transport to school<